Thursday, May 19, 2005

Davis Sweet: The Baloney Code

What's the difference between a parody and a satire? Quick now...

OK, so I wasn't sure either. Turns out that a parody, according to Oxford, is the imitation of the style of a particular writer with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect; while a satire is the use of humour and exaggeration to to expose and criticise stupidity and vices.

I was prompted to look this up because Davis Sweet's new book The Baloney Code is definitely a parody. It says so twice on the front cover and once on the back. And it is a parody, in case you haven't guessed, of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Well, I read Dan Brown's opus soon after it first appeared, and before the mass hysteria was fully developed, and I found it an OK sort of a book, for a plane journey or the beach, but eminently forgettable.

Since I first mentioned it, however, things seem to have got completely out of hand. Some readers have forgotten that it is a work of fiction, and apparently take it seriously. Here in the UK, we have had a 90-minute TV programme, hosted by Tony Robinson, no less, explaining that it is all nonsense from start to finish; but if even half the reports are true, we still have people hoping to follow the clues and find the Holy Grail for themselves.

Given these bizarre circumstances, one can only say that a parody was somewhat overdue, and Davis Sweet has filled the need rather well.

Parody works best, in my view, when it is short, as most editions of the UK magazine Private Eye will demonstrate. Book-length parodies need to be pretty good to succeed, and the author of this one has been wise, I think, to keep it to 134 pages.

Yes, but does it work, you are screaming at me. Is it funny?

Well, the answer is yes. Up to a point. If you like that kind of thing. The author dedicates the book to his father, who, he says, won't get it. And that, I think, incorporates a truth. Not everyone will 'get' this book, and it's probably more likely to succeed with young people than with old. However, I found it entertaining enough to continue with it, and I did laugh aloud here and there.

I must point out, however, one serious error. On page 34 we have a character called Teabag, who has adopted a British accent. Teabag operates 'under the popular and frequently true theory that British accents get more "birds" [i.e. women].'

Now this is simply not true. Dammit. Maybe it has something to do with a hint that a young woman gave me during one of my visits to the States, namely that her friends complained that Limeys in general just don't take enough showers. Whatever. The accent, I can assure you, ain't enough on its own.

In form, The Baloney Code seems to follow the original pretty closely. Or put it this way: reading the Davis Sweet text reminded me of things that I seemed to remember from the Dan Brown version, and which would otherwise, I suspect, have remained buried in my subconscious memory.

The author of The Baloney Code will, of course, be scanning reviews such as this one for words and phrases that he can pull out and stick on his advertising material or on the back of other books: words and phrases such 'brilliant', 'hilarious', and 'I laughed till I was sick all over Granny's antimacassar'. Actually that last one's a sentence, but you get the idea.

So, what can we say to support ole Dave here. Um: 'Suitable for all those with a bad case of the glums.' Now that's true. 'A healthy antidote to Da Vinci fever.' And: 'Ingenious, clever, and funny.'

That's enough for one review I think.

Should you have a friend who is consumed with enthusiasm for the Da Vinci phenomenon, you might perhaps consider giving him/her a copy of The Baloney Code as a birthday present. It could do much to return them to sanity.

On the other hand, it might lead to the end of a beautiful friendship.

Davis Sweet, by the way, is editor of The Bean magazine. This, as you would expect, has its own web site, where you can also read the first chapter of the editor's book.

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